Much has been said about a rise in remote and virtual working during the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown. And while this may be true for many organisations who permanently co-locate, for a lot of bid professionals – particularly those in central bid teams working across multiple UK and/or global offices, or bid consultancies and contractors who ‘parachute’ in to support clients – working remotely is nothing new.
Often, large corporates and professional services organisations have a central business development function; sometimes spread across multiple offices, but always supporting the entire company – wherever the need arises. A bid manager based in Manchester for example, working on bids with the Tokyo or Berlin office, or even closer to home in Leeds (but still regularly only speaking to the team on the telephone, email or video conference). While it may be helpful to be on site with the responding team, this isn’t always an option, or really required.
Increased remote bidding has been talked about a new challenge during the last few months. But, in over 12 years, I’ve been based in the Midlands whilst working on bids with teams in Sheffield, Belfast, Bristol, Cambridge, Manchester, London, Norwich, Doha, Dubai, Paris, the USA and Victoria Australia, and liaising with third party firms across the world.
Can remote bidding cause issues? Of course! At a basic level – not being able to walk round the corner and sit with someone to storyboard a question, or to speak to them in person if they’ve missed a deadline. For global teams, there’s time differences, language barriers, cultural differences. However, these challenges can provide a benefit. Not having to travel 2.5 hours each way to the team, or working across time zones? The hours per day available to work on a bid can hugely increase.
The same core process should apply whether you’re working onsite with the responding team, or virtually – you might just need more forward planning and control, both to ensure the submission deadline is met, and to build a strong team even if you never actually meet them face-to-face.
Create a ‘virtual proposal centre’ (as defined in the APMP Body of Knowledge). This could be as simple as a shared folder, or a formal extranet depending on the bid and team scale. Save the client documentation, content plans, bid production plan, team calendars etc. in here – anything that will add real value to the team. You should confirm with all team members they can access it and, more importantly, that they know how to use it.
Hold a kick-off meeting by telephone or video conference as though you were on-site. Schedule a telephone/video conference at a time suitable for all key stakeholders and contributors (taking into account any time differences of course), have a clear agenda, provide an outline of the opportunity and the proposed content plans, and bring client and competitor intelligence. Discuss the virtual proposal centre, the production plan and review meeting schedule.
Define and share file naming, version control and font/design conventions, hopefully saving you time re-formatting at the eleventh hour. On larger bids, and/or with numerous contributors, you might want to share a design sheet or template with header and body text format, colour palettes and image styles.
Share the bid production plan, so everyone can clearly see their responsibilities/accountabilities and the key milestones. Ensure any team holidays or non-bid priorities are included, and most importantly, ensure any required updates/changes are reflected and communicated.
Schedule regular progress catch ups at the outset by telephone or video conference (again, at a time convenient for all) and/or daily/weekly update emails to a bid distribution list. Follow the same structure each time, focusing on progress against key tasks, any risks/issues and the next due tasks. Follow up calls by email with the notes and actions, and save into the virtual proposal centre.
Pick up the telephone! Not only does this help build rapport between you and the team, it helps underline the importance of the task, especially if you are working with busy operational team members for whom the bid isn’t their day job, and for whom it may be easy to miss an email.
If you are used to working on-site with your bid teams, this extended period of working from home / away from your usual office may feel like a completely new way of working. For those of us who regularly work remotely with bid teams, even if that’s just a train ride away, perhaps even we’re feeling a little more isolated than usual. But the end goal is still to submit a compliant, on-time, bid. All that’s really different is how you communicate with the team. You still have all the tools and processes you need whether you are working on the next desk to them, in a different city or even a different country.